Stig Dagerman (1923 - 1954) Novelist, Short Stories, Essayist, Playwright
For he who has killed a child does not go to the sea. He who has killed a child goes quietly home and beside him he has a silent woman with her hand bandaged and in all the villages they pass they see not one happy person. All the shadows are very dark and when they part it is still under silence and the man who has killed the child knows that this silence is his enemy and that he will need years of his life to defeat it by shouting that it wasn't his fault. But he knows that is a lie and in his nights' dreams he shall instead wish his life back so he could make this single minute different.
Stig was born in 1923, the illegitimate son of a young quarryman and a telephone operator. The couple split up soon after Stig's birth and gave their young child to his paternal grandparents who raised Stig on their farm in ƒlvkarleby. Stig would not see his mother for another 20 years. His father eventually adopted him in 1927 when Stig was 4 years old, though he let Stig's grandparents raise the boy for the majority of his childhood. Stig enjoyed a happy childhood with his hardworking, religious grandparents on their farm, where he witnessed the hardships of rural life and enjoyed his experiences with the tramps that his grandparent's occasionally sheltered. His pious grandparents' sympathy for the disadvantaged had an indelible effect in shaping Dagerman's political convictions and literary themes. In 1934, Stig went to live with his father and his new wife in Stockholm where he witnessed the miserable conditions of the working poor trying to achieve a middle class lifestyle. His left-leaning father introduced Stig to politics, which later led to Stigís involvement with the anarcho-syndicalists, a radical movement that promoted a decentralized government and the rights of the working class. In 1940, Stig was devastated when a madman murdered his beloved grandfather. His grandmother, devastated by the loss, died a month thereafter. This inspired 16 year old Stig to write his first poem. He had found his calling: to be a witness to the loneliness, misery and tragedy of human life. Dagerman's conviction and outlook was solidified when his good friend died in a skiing accident in 1942. The same year Stig had randomly chosen the surname Dagerman and had become editor of the Syndicalist youth paper. A year later, he began contributing short poems to the Syndicalist daily newspaper Arbetaren based on current events ranging in tone from satirical to heartfelt. Stig entered a period of extreme loneliness and despair where he would visit train stations just to be around people. Stig also met his future wife, Anne Marie Gˆtzes, a German refugee and daughter of Spanish Civil War veterans. The couple married in 1943. The couple went to live in an alcove in her parent's apartment while Stig pursued his political, literary and journalistic ambitions. At 20, Stig spent a short time at the University of Stockholm before being drafted into the Army and then released because of a heart condition. The strange stillness and fear surrounding his army experience made a profound impact on Stig and became the subject of his first novel, The Snake, published in 1945 when the author was only 22. Encouraged by positive critical response and enthusiasm among Swedish intellectuals, Stig resigned his newspaper duties and embarked upon an extremely productive time where he wrote as much as 60 pages in a night. His productivity and dark moral vision invited comparisons to August Strindberg, comparisons Dagerman seemed to encourage when he rented the Strindberg's cottage on the island Kymmendˆ in the summer of 1946. There, he composed his second novel, The Island of the Doomed, about the aftermath of shipwreck on a tropical isle. The novel was published in October 1946 to more critical acclaim. The intellectualsí enthusiasm for Stigís 'effortless' works of genius finally reached the Swedish public after the 1947 staging of his play The Condemned. The play made Dagerman a household name in Sweden. 1947 also saw the publication of a collection of essays Dagerman wrote while traveling through postwar Germany the previous year. By the time Dagerman was 26, he was the author of 4 novels, 4 plays, a book of short stories, a travel journal and hundreds of poems and pieces of journalism. He was financially well off and the brightest star of Swedish literature, but the sudden success strained his personal and married life. He was conflicted about enjoying his life in high society, that including numerous affairs, at the expense of life with his wife and two young children. In late 1947, he left for Paris to write articles about postwar life in France, but produced only a few articles. To escape Paris and help repair his marriage, he retreated with his family to a small cottage in Brittany in 1948 and wrote The Burnt Child. He sailed to Australia with European refugees in hopes of writing more articles on post war life, but failed to produce anything. By this time his marriage was all but over and he spent much of 1949 restlessly moving apartments while working on Wedding Worries, a collection of humorous memories of his grandparents and a melancholy depiction of his own marriage. The strain of success, his increasing inability to write and the collapse of his marriage resulted in a nervous breakdown in March 1950. Later that year, he met the famous Swedish Actress, Anita Bjˆrk, who he moved in with in 1951, abandoning his family altogether. She aided his recovery and brightened his personal life considerably, bearing him a daughter in late 1951, though his emotional troubles continued. Stig was mired in a terrible fit of writer's block, an experience completely at odds with the effortless production of his early career. He would be carried away with the initial enthusiasm of the idea, but found himself unable to finish anything more than a few small parts of the whole. The couple traveled to Hollywood in 1952 so Bjˆrk could play the lead role in a movie, but the plans were scrapped due to outrage expressed over the unmarried couple. Dagerman married Anita Bjˆrk in 1953, but his mood remained bleak as he continued to struggle with writer's block and financial difficulties. Bjˆrk's own rising success put Dagerman's own professional and personal failures in stark relief, driving him deeper into despair. Dagerman's feelings of inadequacy were expressed in bouts of jealousy over Bjˆrk's leading men and led to a series of staged suicide attempts. During this period, he would often feel an overwhelming compulsion to be alone and drive out in the night. Real suicide attempts soon followed, both with a razor and gas fumes. Some have speculated that Stig suffered from Schizophrenia, but Stig rarely let people see his darker side. He was shy, courteous and yet still impassioned. On November 4 1954, Stig was found dead in his car in the garage of his house. Apparently, he switched off the engine in a change of heart, but the gas fumes were already too overwhelming and killed him. He was 31 years old. He left behind two wives, three children and literary legacy that unfortunately rapidly declined after his death, but which is, thankfully, now being rediscovered.
Themes: Alienation, fear, despair in modern life. Poor conditions of working class and the cruelty and ignorance of capitalism. Virtues of country life vs. the misery of city life. Strains and disintergration of family units, especially when faced with death.
Style: Short spare sentences that carry a stillness that deceptively come together to make his point resonate. The stories often end without a comforting resolution ? a sudden ending that leaves the reader with an uncomfortable quiet. Dagerman favors intense psychological descriptions of his characters which he accomplishes sometimes literally, but often with the use of techniques of expressionism and symbolism.
Major WorksThe Snake (1945)
A novel masquerading as a collections of short stories featuring various tales narrated by men in an army barracks. Each story centers around various manifestations of fear, with each manifestation symbolically represented by a snake.
The Island of Doomed (1946)
A Burnt Child (1947)
St. John of the Cross
E. T. A. Hoffmann
Heinrich von Kleist
Comte de Lautreamont
GÈrard de Nerval
Rainer Maria Rilke
Evan Goodwin, "little blue light - Stig Dagerman", Littlebluelight (October 14, 2007 Edition), Evan Goodwin (ed.) URL = http://www.littlebluelight.com/lblphp/intro.php?ikey=6